Eskasoni First Nation community members in Mi’kma’ki, the ancestral and unceded territory of the Mi’kmaw people, are reclaiming their traditional teachings to overcome the food insecurity that was caused by Canada’s residential school system.
“Settlers bringing and isolating our First Nation people within reservations and cutting off, not only the access to be able to go out and hunt and fish outside your community,” said Nadine Bernard, an Eskasoni community member and advocate for Indigenous food sovereignty.
Pressure continues to mount on the federal government to locate and identify all of the unmarked graves of Indigenous children on former residential school sites across Canada.
With that, Bernard says it’s crucial for people to accept and understand that the trauma associated with these findings is still impacting the lives of intergenerational survivors today.
“When you’re talking about that event (the discovery of unmarked graves) and food insecurity in our communities it’s the disconnect, it’s the ending of generational knowledge that was taken from so many of these children,” Bernard said.
Bernard says many members of Eskasoni First Nation are committed to harnessing the power of community spirit and cultural teachings to rebuild Indigenous food sovereignty.
Bernard speaks of one young father, Joef Joseph Bernard, who uses his social media platforms to share knowledge about Mi’kmaw land and language teachings to broad audiences.
“Not only does he practise language along with his land-based training but he’s also bringing along his three-year-old son. So, he’s teaching another generation of people who can hear what this practice and culture is,” she said.
Another Eskasoni community member, Duma Bernard, says elders will often take youth on hunting trips to pass along traditional knowledge.
“Children are learning traditional values. You work as a team, no one gets left behind, everybody has a job and we get stuff done,” he said.
Duma Bernard says during the Eskasoni Youth Moose Hunt Camp, elders take youth into the wilderness to learn Mi’kmaw hunting and harvesting skills.
“We teach the kids how to pray for the animal when you take his life, and you take him for his meat, and you take him for his fur. And, you use it properly, you try not to waste anything,” he said.
Bernard says “sharing” is a key Mi’kmaw principle and after hunting trips finish that’s what his team does.
“When people know there’s free meat to be given out — free roast, free steak, free hamburger — I’ve never stayed longer than 20 minutes at a place when we have meat,” he said.
On top of ongoing efforts to rebuild food sovereignty, Bernard says teams of volunteers also work together on a near-weekly basis to distribute boxes of food from area food banks to anyone who is in need.
“We just share. We share with our family and friends. And, this food sovereignty is picking up more, and more, now because we see the need out there,” Bernard said.